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House Bill 271, Game bird farms – Greater sage grouse, passed during this session of the Wyoming Legislature. The bill would amend language in Wyoming Statutes to allow game bird farms to legally possess, propagate, breed, sell, raise and release Greater sage grouse.

Scott Smith, deputy director of external operations at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, noted that the bill was the biggest piece of legislation affecting sage grouse during the session.

“The legislation amends existing statutes on the books for game bird farming that specifically address raising sage grouse,” he said during the Feb. 27 meeting of the Sage Grouse Implementation Team (SGIT). “It also lays out that the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission (WGFC) must establish rules and regulations that game bird farms have to operate under to raise sage grouse.”

Moving through

  Smith noted, “The bill had several amendments that worked through the body, and this is what was settled on.”

Bob Budd, chair of SGIT and executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, said, “When the bill was in committee, we worked on a number of things.”

He continued, “We encouraged the committee to change a lot of ‘mays’ to ‘shalls.’ For example, the Commission shall determine where collections can occur and how many.”

With strict regulations in place, Budd noted that sage grouse rearing is unlikely to be overwhelmingly prevalent.

“I don’t think anyone anticipates that we’ll have hundreds of sage grouse farms in the state,” Budd said, “but there are potential upsides for people.”

Inside the bill

According to the Wyoming Legislative Service Office (LSO), the bill provides a process by which game bird farms can receive a certificate to raise Greater sage grouse and “specifies criteria which must be met to qualify for a certificate, including having successfully raised at least two other species of game birds from eggs or chicks and having an adequate enclosure and vegetation for sage grouse.”

Additionally, farms receiving certification must renew their licensure annually, after demonstrating that they meet the criteria.

“The bill authorizes gathering of sage grouse eggs under the supervision of a wildlife biologist and in coordination with WGFD,” LSO continues. “The bill provides limits on the number of eggs gathered, nesting sites disturbed and months in which eggs may be collected.”

Smith added, “The Legislature left quite a lot of discretion for the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission on sage grouse rearing. There are a lot of things the Commission will need to decide.”

Rules and regulations that govern the collection of sage grouse eggs and more are required to be established by Sept. 1, 2017.

“The rules that would be implemented under this endeavor would include rules on collecting sage grouse eggs in the wild, bringing them back into captivity and rearing them,” he described.

A look back

Over the last five years, a handful of proponents have advocated for the ability to raise sage grouse in captivity, with the goal of supplementing naturally occurring populations.

“I think this idea got legs when a game bird farm operator who has a fairly good success rate said he was interested in seeing if it could be done,” Budd explained. “There are numerous people who backed the idea.”

In the past, the idea has always come through the Wyoming Legislature as a footnote or amendment to the budget bill, where it did not succeed, but Budd added that with the decision of whether or not to list the sage grouse as a big question in the past, the measure never passed.

“The bird not being listed has changed this,” he said. “Now, that the sage grouse is  not listed as an endangered species, we’re willing to try to raise them in captivity.”

Other efforts to raise sage grouse in captivity have been undertaken at the Calgary Zoo, with various rates of success, but Budd commented, “Most of these efforts have been conducted by scientists and not game bird farmers. There’s a chance that farmers will do something different.”

Looking forward

While there are still a number of questions in place, such as how well the birds will survive after being reared in captivity and released, Budd commented that conversations will continue to take place.

“This will give us plenty to discuss moving forward,” he said.

Budd noted that the Commission will likely begin formulating rules at their next meeting, scheduled for March 23-24.

The bill was sponsored by Reps. Halverson, Eric Barlow, Landon Brown, Scott Clem, Roy Edwards, Lars Lone, Bunky Loucks, David Miller and Dan Zwonitzer,

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

During their Feb. 27 meeting, the Sage Grouse Implementation Team (SGIT) heard a number of updates, including a report from the SGIT Communications Team, who has been exploring new opportunities to re-brand the effort, and updates on the latest sage grouse numbers.

Marketing efforts

During the October 2016 meeting, a communications subgroup was established for SGIT.

“Since that time, we have had a lot of movement,” said Joy Bannon, of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation and chair of the subgroup. “We have 25 people who are part of that group.”

The committee has begun identifying different aspects of communication for each month of the year.

“For January, we decided because, there’s a new administration nationally, we would have a message that Wyoming’s SGIT and our conservation strategy will survive this administrative change,” she explained.

They reached out to reporters around the state and promoted SGIT and it’s 10-year existence. They also released an opinion editorial and distributed it to newspapers statewide.

“For February, we decided we will start developing an opinion editorial,” Bannon continues. “We decided that four leaders of the SGIT that have been around since its inception would be perfect as authors of the op-ed.”

The team hopes to discuss conservation efforts and promote the work of SGIT, as well.

“In subsequent months, we will have other opinion editorials,” she said. “It’s exciting.

In March and April, they will focus on social media posts to highlight sage grouse and the sagebrush ecosystem.

“We’re going to try to lead the way on communication,” Bannon emphasized.

Focus groups

With 25 team members, Bannon said they opted to split the subcommittee into various focus areas.

They formed a media protocols focus group to provide guidance for SGIT to interface with the media and a focus group to look at re-branding the SGIT, with the goal of improving the team’s ability to market their work to the general public.

“Our goal is to better communicate the SGIT purpose and image and to provide better internal guidance for all members,” said Nyssa Whitford, a member of the SGIT subcommittee. “We’ve collaborated to create a new mission, vision and logo.”

After 10 years since the implementation of SGIT, the committee noted that it was necessary to continue to communicate SGIT’s purpose clearly and succinctly, while also providing necessary information to parties interested in and curious about the work of the team.

“While we won’t debate the logo, mission or vision today, I think the subcommittee has captured a lot of the things we need to have in those elements,” SGIT Chairman Bob Budd said.

He emphasized that the two-pronged mission of SGIT, however, must be included, and the subcommittee would be making additional changes to the branding documents before they are used.

“We have a two-headed mission, and we need our mission statement to reflect that,” he commented. “It is equally important that we maintain economic opportunities at the same time we do conservation work.”

Over the next several weeks, SGIT team members will provide comments on the new branding materials, so they can be finalized and used in publications.

Grouse production

During the meeting, Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) also reported that 2016 was a very poor year for sage grouse chick production.

“We had very poor chick production as was evidenced by our wing counts,” said WGFD’s Tom Christensen. “We take hunter-harvested wings and the look at the ratio of chicks to hens.”

The data show 0.9 chicks per hen were produced this year.

Over the last 20 years, that number has ranged from 0.8 chicks per hen to 2.4.

“We can expect, based on two years of data and how numbers influence this year’s lek counts, that we’re likely looking at a noticeable decline in lek counts this spring,” he added. “That data is consistent with folks who were on the ground this spring.”

The low chick production is likely a result of a very cool, wet spring coupled with flooding in sage grouse areas and exposure of chicks to harsh weather.

“This happens, and we should expect lower lek counts this year,” he said.

Outside the state

In North Dakota, Christensen indicated that the state was down to 17 males on their leks in 2016, and they were looking for a source to for translocation for many years.

“After negotiations and support of innovative research, we took the proposal to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, and they approved it last fall,” he continued. “They’ll be taking 30 to 40 hens for two years. Then, we’ll re-evaluate the program.”

Part of the translocation effort involves a study on the impacts to the population, including other techniques to settle the hens into their new locations.

As an example, Christensen referenced artificial insemination of hens.

“The idea is, if the hen is inseminated, she’ll settle down immediately, as opposed to not being bred, then leaving the suitable habitat and dying,” he said. “We’re going to work on a site north of Rawlins.”

Christensen added that they are currently looking for the right location to avoid influencing other sage grouse work.

Translocation efforts are scheduled to begin in early 2017.

“We’re working out the logistics right now,” he added. “These translocations will happen this year and next year.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

After Resource Management Plans came out on Sept. 22, 2015 from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to determine land use across the agency’s land in the West, on Sept. 1, BLM released seven Instruction Memorandums (IMs) to clarify how certain aspects of those plans will be implemented.

“Consistent with our unprecedented cooperation in developing the Greater sage grouse plans, the implementation policies we released were developed in coordination with our partners in the states and interested stakeholders,” BLM Director Neil Kornze said. “These IMs respond to state and stakeholder desires to see clear and consistent application of our management activities across the western Greater sage grouse states while providing the flexibility needed to respond to local situations and concerns. Although each policy guides the specifics of a single issue in great detail, they all share the same goal of effectively conserving the West’s sagebrush sea for the benefit of the people and animals who depend on it.”

The IMs cover oil and gas leasing and development; grazing permit review priorities; grazing management thresholds and responses; adaptive management triggers; disturbance tracking; effectiveness monitoring; and habitat assessment framework.

The purpose of an instruction memorandum is to guide agency folks in how to implement what is present in the Records of Decision for the Resource Management Plans (RMP).

Jessica Crowder of the Wyoming Governor’s Office says, “We compliment BLM for providing states, including Wyoming, the opportunity to offer comments on two occasions. It is clear that BLM listened and addressed our concerns in some areas.”

Crowder also notes, however, that several concerns were not addressed, and the Wyoming Governor’s Office believes that additional clarification is needed.

Jim Magagna of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA), however, comments, “I was very discouraged by what I saw in the IMs. They serve to emphasize the things in the Records of Decision for RMPs that were so discouraging.”

“In my first look, I didn’t see that they helped to clarify much, if anything,” he adds.

Wyoming impacts

With the release of the documents just several weeks ago, Crowder notes that is it too early to tell what impact the IMs will have on Wyomingites.

“At a minimum the BLM should ensure that these IMs and the overarching RMPs have no negative impact on producers in Wyoming who are managing their lands properly or working to improve their management in consideration of Greater sage grouse,” she says.

Magagna notes that five of the IMs impact Wyomingites more than the other two.

The simplest one to understand discusses prioritization of grazing allotments.

“That IM shows that those allotments in sage grouse focal areas will the highest priority,” he explains. “Within those, allotments that are due to have permit revisions will be a priority.”

Additionally, those allotments that have been shown to not meet rangeland health standards are also of a priority to analyzes and potentially modify before they are renewed.

As Magagna continues to analyze the IMs, he says that WSGA membership will be kept apprised of the information contained in the documents.

“These are public documents, but they don’t have a public review process,” he adds. “We hope there is flexibility and Wyoming BLM is afforded some flexibility in implementation.”

There is some talk that states will develop additional IMs to further clarify what is included in RMPs.

Crowder adds, “We will continue to work with BLM Wyoming to ensure these IMs do not impact the positive work of ranchers across Wyoming.”

Other relief

While the IMs will dictate management on the ground, Magagna also notes that the emphasis for many ag groups has been on language in another bill – the National Defense Authorization Act in the House of Representatives.

“That bill has language that would prohibit a listing of sage grouse for 10 years,” Magagna explains. “It would also give the states the option, not the obligation, to manage under approved state plans rather than under the federal plan for the next five years.”

“We would really like to see these measures pass,” he continues. “The federal government has said that Wyoming’s plan has adequate regulatory mechanisms, and we’ve heard the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior praise the ground-up, local efforts on sage grouse. We want to use our plans.”

Magagna further comments, “If we could get congressional relief, I think that will lead to renewed enthusiasm for work on what is reasonable to positively impact sage grouse.”

On the ground

With uncertainty in the future, Crowder notes that it is most important that producers stay involved in the monitoring and management of public lands that they use.

“This has been said before, but implementation may be a bit rocky at first. Adjustments to implementation strategies may need to occur to improve outcomes,” Crowder says. “This is best achieved if BLM – and the State of Wyoming – has input from ranchers on the process.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – Natural resource experts and stakeholders from around the state gathered in Casper on Sept. 8-9 for research updates, panel discussions and other presentations on the current status of habitat restoration during the Wyoming Habitat Restoration Workshop.

The workshop was presented by the Wyoming Reclamation and Restoration Center and the University of Wyoming (UW) School of Energy Resources.

During the conference, UW PhD Candidate Kurt Smith presented his research comparing the current core area stipulations for Greater sage grouse to their use of winter habitat.

“We’re interested in evaluating how well the core area concept that was designed for breeding habitat does at protecting winter habitat for these birds,” said Smith.

Migratory

Greater sage grouse are defined as a landscape species, meaning that they migrate over a large range of habitat throughout the year.

“They exhibit long distance movements between seasonal habitats. Even within those seasonal habitats, they can have a lot of movement,” explained Smith.

Typically, birds will show a high fidelity to seasonal areas, returning to the same locations year-after-year.

Not all birds will move over large distances to access seasonal habitat, however.

“The species is a partial migrant, so some individuals within the same species will move to distinct seasonal ranges, whereas others will stay in a single location,” said Smith.

In Wyoming studies, it was found that birds will travel an average of 14.5 kilometers from their nest to winter range.

Current stipulations

Smith explained that the core areas were developed based on leks and buffers around the leks to protect breeding habitat.

“I would say it works pretty darn well in terms of how it was designed for breeding habitat,” said Smith.

There are winter use stipulations that are put into place through the Natural Resource Conservation Service, depending on location and the concentration of birds at the site. The stipulations are largely based on what is defined as a winter concentration area.

“Winter concentration areas are areas where a large concentration of core area birds – so birds that are breeding in core areas – congregate and occupy from Dec. 1 to March 14,” continued Smith.

The definition typically includes groups that are consistently 50 birds or greater.

If a non-core area is identified as a concentration area, a seasonal use restriction is put into place from Dec. 1 to March 14. Core areas identified as concentration areas receive the most protection.

“There’s the seasonal use restriction, but then there’s also the five percent disturbance cap,” said Smith.

Core versus non-core

As part of their study, Smith and his team gathered 44,000 tracked locations from 77 individual birds.

“In our Big Horn Basin site, we had about 56 percent of individuals nested in core. Of those, about 63 percent of their winter use was in core,” said Smith.

Alternatively, approximately 30 percent of use was outside of core areas.

“Nearly 18 percent wintered entirely outside of core, so there’s a pretty substantial amount of use that is outside of core areas,” he continued.

In that study area, birds moved an average of 8.5 kilometers to winter range. Their winter range movement was from Oct. 26 to March 21.

“As we can see, they’re moving earlier and staying a little bit later than current timing stipulations,” said Smith.

Less movement was found in the Jeffery City study area, but similar winter range movement times were found.

“Our current seasonal use stipulations of Dec. 1 to March 14 are not quite matching the time of use that we’re seeing at a fine scale,” he concluded.

Range overlap

“Basically, we assessed seasonal home ranges and looked at the overlap with ranges in relation to core areas,” explained Smith.

He noted that more overlap occurred in larger core areas, which could be seen in comparing two of the study areas used.

In the Greater South Pass site, “The ratio of summer to winter use was a little less than one. That’s indicating that summer use is pretty well related to winter use,” said Smith.

Alternatively, the much smaller Rawlins site had a ratio of proportional use of 0.44 in the summer and 0.12 in the winter.

“Individuals are using these core areas much more in the summer than in the winter,” he continued.

According to the study, Smith determined that core areas do not proportionally protect winter habitat as well as they protect breeding habitat.

“If populations are using core mostly during the summer, it does not necessarily mean that they’ll use the core during winter. It’s really a habitat specific context,” concluded Smith.

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached an This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cody – “The science is the easy part,” says Karen Launchbaugh of the University of Idaho on research. “The policy and the people are the complicated parts.”

Launchbaugh is the principal investigator of a large scale, 10 year, multi-million dollar research project where she looks at sage grouse and grazing.

“Our goal is to put some research behind the decisions that will be made by ranchers, agencies and lawyers,” she says.

Launchbaugh’s project was one of several funded by the Public Land Council’s (PLC) Endowment Trust in fiscal year 2015.

Inside the study

“We work with Idaho Cattle Association, University of Idaho, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Idaho Fish and Game Department and the Idaho Conservation League,” Launchbaugh explains. “We try to get a lot of different views on what needs to be studied.”

When looking at grazing, she asserts that there are only a few ways livestock grazing can affect grouse.

“Largely, it can affect the habitat,” Launchbaugh says of grazing. “There are a lot of studies on how tall grass needs to be and how much cover is necessary, but not much about lining up the habitat to the sage grouse. We are looking at how grazing affects the habitat and the grouse. It hasn’t been done much.”

Aside from cover, grass also provides fuel and forage, and Launchbaugh’s team is analyzing both as a part of the studies.

Grazing impacts

The term of the study – 10 years, says Launchbaugh, seems like a long time, but on the landscape, she notes that it isn’t long at all.

“We are looking at how spring grazing by cattle affects sage grouse habitat characteristics, demographics of sage grouse and fuel and wildfire,” she says. “Early on we decided that we would work with cattle, and we are looking only at spring grazing because it is coming up in court documents.”

Currently, they are focusing on four sites – two in southern Idaho on two grazing allotments and two in central Idaho.

“This year we added two more to have different places and see how grouse response might vary,” she comments. “We also never know when one might go up in smoke or if there will be a case that halts our work. We want to make sure we can finish.”

Data

While the study has only been in place since 2014, Launchbaugh notes that their data shows an overall successful nesting rate.

“This summer, because of funds from PLC and Idaho Cattlemen’s, we were able to get a larger field crew out,” Launchbaugh comments.

The field crews in the study looked at hiding cover around the nest to determine how concealed the grouse is when she is laying on the nest. They also looked at if the birds are selecting good sites within the pastures and on a landscape scale.

“The first year, we had 43 percent of nests that were successful,” she says. “This summer we had 44 percent. Those are respectable numbers.”

Of the 10 pastures, the success rate of grouse nesting was consistent whether they were grazed or not.

Grass height

Recognizing that a seven-inch stubble height for grass frequently comes up when talking about sage grouse, Launchbaugh mentioned that they looked at how to best measure stubble height.

“We look at drop height, leaf height and effective height,” she says. “I can’t tell anyone if this is going to be affected by season or the success of the grouse. This year, all of our plants were 20 centimeters, or over seven inches. It was a pretty good year, so we’ll be interested to see how it varies over time.”

Launchbaugh’s data has also pointed out that cattle graze between the shrubs, rather than underneath the shrubs.

“Grouse need grass under the shrubs, so just by measuring grass, that doesn’t get us to what affects the grouse,” she says.

Looking forward

“One of the things we are able to do is look at whether the pasture was grazed, where they are successful and if grouse are in areas that are heavily or lightly grazed,” Launchbaugh explains. “There was no relationship between grazing utilization patterns and the success, but that might be because we had low utilization levels.”

The highest utilization in the study so far was 29 percent.

“One of the challenges we are facing is how we can get heavier grazing,” she adds.

“The answer to the question about whether grazing is good or bad for grouse is yes,” Launchbaugh says. “It is good or bad, depending on what mangers do.”

Launchbaugh updated the Public Lands Council on her research at their annual meeting in early September 2015.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..